Rukhs (Rukh raptorsaturnus), known to themselves as ruus (both singular and plural), are a sapient species of gigantic, vaguely bird-like predators native to Saturn, specifically the lower layers of the atmosphere where the temperature and pressure are sufficient to support liquid water. The species is notable for having two independent but cooperating brains, one male and one female. They appear in Robert Forward's novel Saturn Rukh.

Etymology[edit | edit source]

The name "rukh" comes from the Persian word for the roc, a gigantic bird of prey depicted in Arabian mythology. Their binomen, Rukh raptorsaturnus, means "Saturn raptor," highlighting their similarity to birds of prey.

Description[edit | edit source]

Biochemistry[edit | edit source]

Despite their alien environment, rukhs have a very similar biochemistry to Earth life. They live at a similar temperature, and use liquid water as a biochemical solvent. They are carbon-based and use DNA, and are sufficiently similar to Earth life that they may be descended from terrestrial microbes transplanted to Saturn by meteors. However, there is no oxygen in their environment, and they are presumably anaerobic hydrogen breathers; other Saturnian organisms are shown to be harmed by oxygen. There is also sufficient biochemical difference between Saturn and Earth biochemistry that one type of life cannot eat the other.

Anatomy & Physiology[edit | edit source]

Rukhs are tremendously large animals, with a wingspan of up to 4 kilometers (2.5 miles; 13,100 ft). Their bodies contain large volumes of air, decreasing their weight so that they can fly, but they likely mass hundreds of thousands of tons regardless. Their bodies are vaguely bird-shaped, with a keel in place of a head and hundred-meter black "feathers" on their backs. Rukhs are too large to fly by flapping their wings, so they fly using biological jet engines. They feed using two 400-meter-wide mouths, one on each side of the keel. The mouths are full of sharpened feathers that shred prey.

The rukhs' most remarkable trait is their bodies' division into male and female halves. Each brain is housed in a caterpillar-like neck tipped with a single, ten-meter-wide eye. The female brain's neck lies on top of the keel, and the males' beneath. The necks are lined with stubby claws that they use like hands; these appendages are extremely weak for such a large animal, barely stronger than human arms. The vagina lies near the back of the top half, and the penis sits in a similar location on the bottom. The brains can coordinate and communicate, but usually one is in control of the body while the other sleeps. The male brain is in charge of hunting, while the female brain handles the flight upward in preparation for the next hunting dive.

Diet[edit | edit source]

Rukhs sit comfortably at the top of Saturn's food chain. They can kill and eat virtually any animal they choose, and do so in large numbers. They are ram feeders, eating by plowing into schools of smaller animals, sucking them into their maws, and tearing them apart on their feather "teeth".

Reproduction & Life Cycle[edit | edit source]

Reproduction is initiated by the rukh's female half. This rukh mates with the male half of a different rukh, initiating sex by stimulating the male's penis with her neck. The female then guides the penis to her vagina, and the two dock until copulation is complete. Usually the female will try to mate with a male from a different flock, but if this is not possible then they will mate within their own flock.

Due to the rukhs' huge size, their life cycle takes place over a very long period of time. Gestation takes 13-15 Earth years, at the end of which the pregnant rukh's female half gives birth to a single offspring about 100 meters (330 feet) in wingspan. The baby must learn to fly almost immediately lest it be blown off the mother's back and die, in which case its parents will not rescue it. However, baby rukhs spend most of their time on their mother's backs, feeding off bycatch until they are large enough to hunt on their own. Rukhs live for about eighty Saturnian years, or close to 2,400 Earth years. The brains do not necessarily die at the same time; usually one will die of old age before the other, dooming the survivor to fall to its death once it can no longer stay awake.

Environment[edit | edit source]

Rukhs do not live at what humans would think of as Saturn's "surface," the one-bar level of its atmosphere where ammonia cloud decks form; temperatures there are far too low for water-using life to survive. Instead, they live at the ten-bar (1.04 MPa) level of its atmosphere, roughly 100 kilometers (60 miles) beneath the one-bar level. Here, temperatures are above the freezing point of water, allowing clouds of water to form. Temperatures here are about eight degrees Celsius (46 degrees Fahrenheit). Saturn's habitable layer lies beneath three layers of clouds (ammonia, ammonium hydrosulfide, and water), and it is consequently very dark.

Society[edit | edit source]

Rukhs live in flocks structured much like whale pods. They are led by the flock's elders, who pass down knowledge and tradition. With no solid material to work with, rukhs possess no technology of any kind, not even clothing, and they were deeply fascinated by tools upon encountering them for the first time. Prior to contact with humans, they had no concept of technology, borders, warfare, or homicide. While flocks do have territories, these regions often overlap, and rukhs do not fight among themselves.

Hunting is a major social affair for rukhs. They usually hunt prey in prearranged formations, using different formations for each kind of prey. They usually remain in constant communication throughout the hunt, but may remain quiet when hunting prey with sensitive hearing. Rukhs' male brains generally handle hunting, although the female brains may have some input.

Rukhs are a migratory species, living near Saturn's equator during the winter and moving either north or south during the summer. Rukhs do this at least partially to avoid the millistoma, a gargantuan predator that lives deep in Saturn's atmosphere and moves upward during the warm summers. The millistoma occupies a place of myth in rukh society; while rukhs universally fear the creature, most have never seen one in their lives.

Like humans, rukhs have rituals surrounding birth and death. Rukhs attend the birth of a new flock member, but do not attempt to intervene in any way. If the baby falls off its mother's back, it is allowed to die, as the rukhs believe only strong babies should survive. Should the infant successfully cling to its mother, it is then welcomed into the flock and treated as a member. A rukh's brains do not usually die at the same time, often leaving the doomed surviving brain in a state of terror at its impending death. Because of this, the other members of its flock surround and comfort it in its last moments, singing songs to it as it goes to sleep for the final time and falls to its death.

Appearances[edit | edit source]

  • Saturn Rukh, by Robert L. Forward (1997)

Notes[edit | edit source]

  • The creatures depicted on the cover of Saturn Rukh are probably not rukhs. They much more closely resemble the winghunter, a much smaller predator species depicted in the novel.
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